Courage, dear heart

A week ago I led a workshop about mental management, specifically for AKC Nationals, but truly for anyone who competes in this sport. It felt sort of strange, speaking with experience and authority on a topic that I’ve spent the last several years coming to terms with and learning myself. My nerves were high the morning of as I went over my notes and wrote up some small posters highlighting pieces of advice. I started to question my discussion topics and my ability to lead them knowledgeably and confidently. I spoke aloud to myself in the car on the ride up, attempting to compile my thoughts into a more complete and rational cadence. And then, as agility instruction usually happens, it just came naturally.

Our conversation was fluid and easy. We began the afternoon in a circle and once we started speaking it felt as though could have gone on for ages. I was close to gushing about this process and how it quite literally has changed my life. We discussed routines and the importance of practicing them at every opportunity, from weekly training to Worlds. We talked about kindness and patience and persistence and toughness and yes, setting goals. Everyone has a goal list, right? Apparently not. Funny how it coincided with a week when lists and goals were discussed outside of agility, too and I realized that not everyone loves checklists and not everyone has thought too much about an ultimate goal. I’m not convinced we all need a formal list– we certainly don’t all need to excitedly draft one up every year in January, comparing it to the previous year’s, checking things off with stupid satisfaction. (Certainly not, who would?) But maybe we need a reminder of what we’re working for now and again. It seems easy to get caught in the mindset of this-is-what-we-do without wondering why. I believe that’s a fundamental step in mental management, this mindfulness, this awareness. Goal-setting for me can be in the smallest of steps, in the successes of minutes in a day, not just what’s to come years down the line because of it. I’ve been on that journey for some time now, learning a lot of  these lessons on my own, with a lot of help from others, and most assuredly through the words on this space. Nothing I’ve discovered in this process is a novel revelation, surely, but it felt like during the time. How to get that across in a four hour workshop? It didn’t seem possible, especially when mixed with the course challenges we expect to see at NAC, handling choices, and long discussions about paths and footwork.

Still, we tried.

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It was easy to get pulled into the current in the room, to be sucked in by the aspirations of others. I felt the dull ache of my own dream start to wash back over me, a scary prospect at first, but a good one. I’ve been resistant to that feeling so far this year. Too afraid to lean into it, to feel it fully again. Afraid that I’d rush my dog back too soon and disappoint not only myself (and him), but also every person who has so kindly supported and encouraged us as a team. It was a hard balance to strike– ultimately finding a middle ground between my potentially over-the-top worry with the external pressure of pushing forward. In this time I’ve been bombarded with opinions about moving too slowly without enough time to prep for the competition that looms just days away. I’ve been stuck on the couch many weekends at home watching others train and compete, comparing myself to them, comparing Bolt to other dogs, comparing Bolt to who he was 6 months ago– a year ago. I’ve dizzied myself up into excitement and then checked it back down. For a long time I convinced myself that we wouldn’t be heading towards Perry in the first place. It was a mechanism for protection, that mentality. Yet here we are. There aren’t any result-based expectations for this year—though I don’t think it’s possible to ever make assumptions on the outcome of any year—but there are a lot of fierce hopes. And still a lot of dreams.

It’s the goal I wanted everyone heading to Nationals this weekend to feel– the pure exhilaration of just being present in the event. To breathe and smile before every round. To be brave enough to trust our choices and our dogs. To run with intention and soul. More than anything though, to do it all in joy. Unobstructed by the past, by worries or doubts– undeterred, unfettered joy. Because ultimately, that should always be the goal.

Courage, dear heart. We’re here.

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